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Adam Ross

Great write-up, Thom. "White Heat" is the kind of movie I would show to someone who claims to not like the old black & whites. As far as surrealist gangster movies, you can't go wrong with Point Blank.


Glad you like it, Adam. I agree about White Heat's potential to draw skeptics in to appreciate the power of the black and white side. Do you think it has more to do with Cagney's performance or Walsh's taut storytelling? Coincidentially I said something similar about early silent shorts and the godfather of all crime pictures, The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912).

I haven't seen Point Blank yet so I'm heading over to your post to get better acquainted with it. I'm anxious to find out how it mixes fact and fantasy in a gangster picture.

Adam Ross

I think it's a combination of both of those elements, and they're both timeless. "White Heat" is a good one for B&W non-believers because modern crime movies are very similar in the emotions and characters they want to achieve.


So true. You can see so much of Tony Soprano, for one, in this film, don't you think?

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Jacqueline T Lynch

Another excellent analysis, and intriguing how you've carried over the issue of exploring mental illness into another genre of film, especially your noting of the using the character's madness as a plot device. Also nice screen capture of the unusual dissolve. Apart from the technical aspects of the film you've noted, Cagney was remarkable in his career. So varied, and so exciting to watch no matter what he did. He was good at just about anything he turned his hand to. I hope I can see this film one of these days; it's been some years.


Hello Jacqueline,

I want to thank you because, in a way, you're responsible for this post. In the comments section last time you noted how mental illness is usually treated as madness in genre pictures. Well, that inspired me to hunt one down to see how it works. So, thank you.

I'm glad the screencap from midway through the dissolve works. It's difficult to capture what Walsh is doing there in a still image. There are, I believe, three chase sequences in the movie. The first two are constructed through rhythmic editing with cuts, but the third includes dissolves. The dissolves felt odd in that kind of sequence, yet they tied together the various elements of the search and lent the notion of a large centralized technology-based effort to track down the gang. The Treasury agents have a bit of a fetish for technology and scientific investigation procedures in the movie.

Cagney is gruff and tough-talking, but he moves like a dancer. Even when he has his headaches and tantrums in this film he looks like he's dancing. Speaking of which, I missed Yankee Doodle Dandy (1943) during the war years on this blog and mean to catch up with it someday soon (if only a revival theater within driving distance would show it). He has some serious acting chops too. I was stunned by his breakdown in the scene inside of the prison when he hears about his mother's murder. Another favorite scene scene occurs later in the movie when he tells the gang the legend of the Trojan Horse, replete with 1940s slang. Homer never sounded so good!

Joe Thompson

Thom: "White Heat" was an excellent choice. "Top of the world, Ma" is one of the great ironic lines in cinema.

Joe Thompson ;0)


Hiya Joe,

Yeah, perfect line perfectly timed. And once you see it you'll never forget it.

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